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A tree named Cengal Besar

Khairul Ashraf Kammed (NST)

IT takes about an hour to get to the main entrance of Cengal Besar from the campsite of Terengganu 4x4 Jamboree at Sungai Kelemin in Dungun. From here, our convoy will be off-road and we have to get to the Sungai Loh campsite before our adventure begins on foot. We are going in search of the gigantic cengal tree. This expedition was part of the activities that was organised during the three days and two nights event. The event was organised by Tourism Malaysia Terengganu in conjunction with the visit Terengganu Year 2013 campaign.
There’s a drizzle and the vehicles have to manoeuvre through puddles of mud. The panhard rod of a Cherokee jeep breaks but the driver manages to go on driving. Meanwhile, the owners of two Hilux pickups which use standard tyres, decide not to continue the journey and make their way back to base camp.
I guess they are probably newbies. The bright finishing paint on both their machines — still noticeable even with all the mud splotches — says it all. As we continue on our way, the vehicles get stuck in the mud and the drivers have to use winchers to get out of the sticky situations.
We reach the Sungai Loh campsite at 1.30pm. There is another scenic view of a river which is wider than the one at our campsite.
A narrow bridge of approximately 100m spans the river. This was built only recently by the forest reserve authorities but even if there was no bridge, the adventurer in me would be more than willing to wade through the thigh-level river to make it to the other side.
Most of the participants who plan to visit Cengal Besar, eat a quick packed lunch that they have brought along but I intend to enjoy my food only after I reach our destination.

At exactly 1.45pm, our small convoy depart for Pasir Raja Forest Reserve’s prized possession while the rest stay on at Sungai Loh.
It is a challenge to traverse the route which is already covered with mud. It is not an easy feat as we have to go uphill and downhill as well as crawl under several fallen trees, but the fun part is crossing small streams.
Unfortunately, the soles of my almost five-year-old Hitec shoes start to come apart. I go on walking, ignoring the uncomfortable condition. At one point, the sole of my left shoe detaches totally. Everyone had to wait while one of the guides helps me by piercing a hole in the sole with his dagger. He then inserts a rope into the hole and ties the shoe to the sole.
There is another problem — leeches. I have lost count of the number of those bloodsuckers feasting on me.

Suspension bridge over pristine Sungai Loh

3pm, we reach a checkpoint which indicates that Cengal Besar is just nearby. It is just another 10 minutes’ walk to get to the spot.
But we are misled to another path and we find another cengal tree instead. Like the rest, I am quite disappointed initially but I hope we will not be abandoning our mission. I have faith that we will find Cengal Besar as we have already come so far.
We make our way back to the checkpoint to discuss whether we will continue to look for Cengal Besar.
By now, I am very hungry, so I take out my lunch box but the nasi lemak is starting to smell funny. That doesn’t stop me though, as it still tastes all right.
After resting for 20 minutes, we receive good news from one of the guides who had gone in search of the tree. It turns out that we have to take the route to the right instead of the left. We pass by a tiny waterfall and climb up a hill. It is an arduous effort for me after the meal. But one of the participants literally pushes me up and cheers me on so that I do not give up. At a snail’s pace, I drag myself along and in less than 10 minutes, I am elated to see Cengal Besar. There it is, towering majestically, the largest tree that I have ever seen in my life.
We pose for a group photo of one of our proudest moments in our lives and then take time to admire the tree before we make our way back to Sungai Loh as the day is getting darker.

1,300-year-old hardwood
The Malaysia Book Of Records has verified the Cengal Besar tree to be around 1,300 years old. Its diameter at the base is 16.75m and towers 65m in height.
It was discovered in 1999 by the Terengganu State Forestry Department‘s ranger Omar Mohamad.
The cengal (Neobalanocarpus heimii) is a straight-bole, large hardwood commonly found here and in south Thailand, Indonesia, India and the Philippines.
It is highly resistant to decay. The wood is used in heavy construction such as railway sleepers, poles and piles, boat building, wharf and bridges.



   Ben van Wijnen

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